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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       279
of the Volga. The dull day seemed to brighten at once.
His heart throbbed with joy, and he felt a slightly choking
sensation in the throat from emotion.
At a certain invisible line the entire result of his per-
severing efforts in training was put to the test. He had
crossed that line, and now he reaped the fruits of those
numerous days of hard work easily and without strain.
He achieved the main thing that he had long striven for
without success: he had become merged with his machine,
felt it as the continuation of his own body. Even the in-
sensitive and inflexible artificial feet did not hinder this.
Conscious of the waves of joy that were sweeping over
him, he veered deeply several times, made the loop, and
had barely completed this when he threw the machine
into a spin. The ground spun furiously with a whistling
sound, and the airfield, the school building and the tower
of the meteorological station with its striped, inflated
sleeve—all merged in continuous circles. With a sure
hand he brought the machine out of the spin and made
another tight loop. Only now did the then famous "La-5"
reveal to him all its known and hidden qualities. What a
machine it was in experienced hands! It responded readily
to every movement of the steering-gear, it easily per-
formed the most intricate stunts, and shot up like a rocket,
compact, agile and swift.
Meresyev climbed out of the cockpit, staggering as if
he were drunk, his mouth stretched in an idiotic smile.
He did not see the infuriated instructor, nor hear his irate
raving. Let him rave! Guardroom? All right, he was quite
ready to do a spell in the guardroom. What difference
did it make now? One thing was clear: he was an airman,
a good airman. The extra quantity of precious fuel that
had been spent on his training had not been wasted. He
would repay that expenditure a hundredfold, if only they
would let him go to the front.
At his quarters another pleasant surprise awaited him:
a letter from Gvozdev was lying on his pillow. Where,
how long, and in whose pocket it had wandered before it
reached its destination, it was difficult to say, for the
envelope was creased, smudged and oil-stained. It was
enclosed in a neat envelope addressed in Anyuta's hand.
The tankman informed Alexei that a damnable thing